There were many teams who had disappointing 2017 seasons. Some teams, like the Cleveland Browns, who finished with an 0-16 record, decided not to fire their coach. Others, however, like the Indianapolis Colts, decided not to clean house in the coaching department. There were a whopping seven head coaching changes in the past year, and it may be difficult to diagnose what those coaches should and/or will accomplish in their endeavors with their respective teams. In this edition, I will be analyzing the expectations for 2018 and beyond for newly hired Detroit Lions head coach Matt Patricia.
The Lions had another season in which they came up just short, which seemed to be a trend in the Jim Caldwell era. The team finished 9-7 which placed second in the NFC North division and kept the Lions in the playoff hunt for most of the season. That record was not enough to earn a playoff spot with the Carolina Panthers earning the #5 seed with an 11-5 record and the Atlanta Falcons earning the #6 seed with a 10-6 record.
The Lions proceeded to fire Caldwell after four seasons as head coach. Lions general manager Bob Quinn interviewed several candidates, including offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter and then-offensive coordinator Teryl Austin, but chose to strike a deal with Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia following New England’s Super Bowl loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.
Matt Patricia is not locked in to one style of defense. Rather, he likes to utilize player versatility in order to show the best looks for the personnel that they possess, instead of forcing players to adapt to a new defensive look or a new position to fit well in the defense. Many times, select defenders will play safety, outside linebacker and inside linebacker. Patricia will mostly use a 4-3, 3-4, or base nickel package. However, he will use wildly strange formations such as 2-4-5 when they have two 3-4 style defensive ends on the field, four 3-4 style linebackers, and five nickel style defensive backs. At times, Patricia will show a front that appears to be a merge between 3-4 and 4-3, with four defensive linemen with one standing up while the other three are down. There was a time when Patricia would use a 1-5-5 scheme. As crazy as that sounds, it wasn’t that crazy, because the one down linemen was the 6’2”, 325 lbs. Vince Wilfork. Patricia has seldom shown a scheme like that since Wilfork’s departure.
Patricia joins an already competitive Lions roster and coaching staff. Usually when a new head coach arrives in town, he brings his own staff with him. Patricia wanted continuity at the offensive coordinator and was able to convince brilliant young offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter to stay. Cooter was considered by a few teams to be a club’s next head coach, but never received real interest. Cooter has dialed up one of the league’s best passing offenses during his tenure in Detroit, but the running game has been atrocious. Hopefully with new halfbacks Kerryon Johnson and LeGarrette Blount, the Lions run attack will be much more efficient. Patricia brought in Paul Pasqualoni to replace Teryl Austin as defensive coordinator. Pasqualoni gave Patricia a job as an offensive assistant at Syracuse in 2001.
The Lions defense features star talent. Glove Quinn is a great free safety while Tavon Wilson is a nice player at strong safety. Darius Slay is one of the league’s top cornerbacks. There are some solid contributors in the linebacking corps with Christian Jones, Jarrad Davis and Devon Kennard. Anchoring the defensive line is defensive end Ziggy Ansah.
There are also some very good pieces on offense. The offensive line is led by left tackle Taylor Decker, 2018 first round draft pick Frank Ragnow at left guard and T.J. Lang at right guard. The Lions have a great receiving corps with Kenny Golladay, Marvin Jones and Golden Tate. The Lions finally have some good halfbacks with the additions of LeGarrette Blount and Kerryon Johnson. And then at quarterback is the amazing Matthew Stafford. I didn’t forget about the tight ends, but there are no notable names in that group.
Now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: my predictions for how the Lions will fare under Patricia. I think it is reasonable for the Lions to have an 8-8 record in 2018. While I think this is a great team, I think it will take a year for this team to really mesh together. The offense should take off with Cooter still at the helm and Stafford finally having some reliable running backs, but the defense will see some inconsistencies simply because they are under complete new coaching. The Lions are also in what I think is the toughest division in the entire NFL. In addition, the NFC as a whole looks to be very good in 2018. Patricia should have a career win % of about .593, or between 9 and 10 wins per season. I’m sure I could look back at this years from now and realize how wrong I was, but the NFC North, and really the entire NFC looks extremely tough for the foreseeable future. However, things can change very quickly, so take this as an educated guess and not the preachings of the Oracle or a crystal ball.